Sen Rubio: 'External Forces' Seek to Damage US-Colombia Relationship Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduces former Sen. Bill Nelson, nominee to be administrator of NASA, at a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on April 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
By Jeffrey Rodack | Thursday, 27 May 2021 08:17 AM
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., expressed solidarity with Colombia as anti-government protests have raged in the South American nation for nearly a month.
Rubio's comments came in a Wednesday tweet.
He wrote: "Just spoke to the President of #Colombia @IvanDuque. I told them we are with them, our strongest ally in South America, during this time when external forces seek to destabilize his country & damage the U.S.-Colombia relationship."
The Associated Press reported the protests have been fierce, particularly in Cali, a city of more than 2 million people.
At least 32 protesters have died in Cali during confrontations with police since the protests began in late April. The AP attributed the information to Indepaz a human rights group, which has identified 52 victims across Colombia as a whole.
Protesters and police in Cali have both accused each other of using live ammunition during confrontations that occur most nights in poor neighborhoods.
The protests began when Duque proposed a wide-ranging tax increase, but continued even after he backed off, according to the wire service.
And Reuters reported that protesters marched in provincial capitals around Colombia on Wednesday. The protesters demanded government concessions government concessions on economic support for the poor.
Reuters reported that protester demands also include a basic income, opportunities for young people, and an end to police violence.
In another tweet, Rubio wrote on Tuesday: "Colombia is our closest & most import ally in South America. We need to stand with the now."
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., also tweeted about the protests in Colombia.
He wrote: "Disgusting to see this destruction and violence in Colombia. We must stand with those working for democracy, peace and rule of law to the region."
Meanwhile, NBC News reported earlier this month that Duque, has blamed "drug trafficking mafias" for the acts of vandalism and offered a reward of up to 10 million Colombian pesos (about $2,600) to those who help identify those responsible.
The tax reform sparked the social unrest that has been fueled by violence, unemployment, noncompliance with a peace agreement, mismanagement of the pandemic, and hunger.
"The causes of the mobilization range from poverty, the constant assassinations of social leaders, and problems that have not been resolved," said Juan Pablo Madrid-Malo, coordinator of the Foundation for Press Freedom in Colombia.
And analysts noted that Cali's geographic location makes it a hotspot for protests because of it is close to areas impacted by the conflict among guerrillas, paramilitaries and the military as well as drug trafficking and the displacement of people, NBC News said.